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Some 220 North American Jews landed at Ben Gurion International Airport on Thursday morning.
With missiles falling throughout the North and war in the air, the decision to make aliya suddenly appeared like an act of bravery. The departure received widespread media coverage. An entire wing of one of the airport's terminals filled with journalists representing local and national media outlets, from the Spanish language Telemundo TV to New York One, a community channel. Most of the new olim were cornered by reporters asking them about their motives for immigrating to Israel.
"We never thought our move to Israel would be a political statement," said Jehuda Saar, from Teaneck, New Jersey, who, like all the new immigrants, will be moving to communities in the center, like Ra'anana and Ramot Beit Shemesh. "But people want to destroy Israel and we are probably the Jewish state's best secret weapon. For every Nasrallah or Ahmedinijad who makes a statement about crushing Israel, there will be one more Jew ready to move there."
The new immigrants comprised 38 families, 36 people traveling alone, two cats and a dog. Most of the families were Orthodox. A large contingent from the Bukharan community of Forest Hills, Queens, was present with their rabbi, Michael Borochov.
Children ran around the piles of luggage, and representatives of the Jewish Agency handed out packets explaining the intricacies of obtaining an Israeli identity card upon arrival.
The flight is the second this summer and the 17th overall organized by the Nefesh B'Nefesh aliya organization
Dudy Starck, Nefesh B'Nefesh's director of media development, said that none of the people in the group had voiced any real fears about arriving during what has become, effectively, wartime. "These are the ones not expressing concern," Struck said. "They are just sticking with their original plan."
According to Michael Landsberg, executive director of the Jewish Agency's Aliya Department in North America, there were no cancelations for the flight because of the current violence. "It really makes me proud to know that these people are so committed to living in Israel that they would come even now."
Web designer Sammy Capuano, his wife, Shiri, and their six-month old son Yitzchak are moving to Ramot Beit Shemesh. He was being interviewed in Spanish by Telemundo in the NY terminal Wednesday. "Look, God did not decide to put Israel in the Bahamas," Capuano said. "It is in a difficult part of the world, among the Arabs, and if it is his will for us to struggle there then that is what will do."
Representatives from Nefesh B'Nefesh, the Jewish Agency, El Al, and Israeli government officials spoke at a ceremony before the new immigrants boarded their 3 o'clock flight. They told them they were "aiding Israel's war effort."
"Yes, you are going into a dangerous situation," yelled Tony Gelbert, co-founder and chairman of Nefesh B'Nefesh. "But you know what you are doing and you know they need you there."
Aryeh Mekel, the Israel consul-general in New York, tried to strike a lighter tone. "You are people who don't talk the talk, you walk the walk," Mekel told the new immigrants. "Moses and the Israelites also had to walk the walk, but they actually really did have to walk, a long way. Luckily, now we have El Al."